It takes approximately twenty seconds of travel on a canal barge to seriously consider moving to a houseboat. We were on the Royal Canal, heading for a jaunt west, from Castleknock railway station to Clonsilla, and I was hooked. The heart rate slowed. I haven’t felt as one with my surroundings since the last time I had a bath.
It’s a greenway, but you don’t have to do any cycling. Drinking prosecco and eating bread and dips helps perceptions enormously, but, no, seriously, I’m sold on water-bound
adventures. This is farther out from urban Dublin canal. There are no auld triangles, going jingle jangle, and no screws bellowing at imprisoned debtors and mud larks. It is a different type of 19th century landscape. The canal travels through a deep cut, so there are times when you are as much as thirty feet below the towpath. The only people you see are those waving at you from bridges. And the waving is joyous. As a generally open and friendly people, we tend to wave at moving objects a lot. Trains, Luases, boats in the sea. But waving to-and-from a canal boat is different.
I’ve waved once while on a yacht, but it felt like a sneer. The wave said, “Look at me, peasant, I’m on a yacht and you’re not.”
Encouraging a child to wave at a Luas is risky, lest you get the middle finger, or the child becomes scared of their bleak commuting future, to judge by the tired, crammed faces of the passengers.
But canal boat-waving is pure. People wave with benign jealousy. They think: ‘We should do that.’ And we wave back with our prosecco glasses, a gesture that says: ‘You should do this.’ Prosecco is dirt cheap now. And canal boats are very hireable. Just google Royal Canal Boat Trips. (You can say a lot with a wave.)
It doesn’t feel like Dublin at all. We pass a man tending a garden he has carved out of the bank. He doesn’t seem surprised to see us. When you float past someone tending a garden in a wooded watercourse, the temptation, obviously, is to draw your weapons, lest he be from an unknown tribe.
A tribe that might be hostile to your bringing the ‘Good News’ of Jesus Christ and also untrammelled land theft and gold mining. But he turns out to be wearing cords and a sensible jumper, rather than a necklace of the teeth of his enemies. So we’re grand. Or, rather, Royal.
There is surprisingly little litter on this bit. The odd can doesn’t even spoil things that much. In fact, a solitary, plucky Tuborg bobbing gently by itself seems like a hermit. An introvert that found the close quarters of a six-pack — or, if Lidl, a 48-pack — to be too stifling. As a canal doesn’t really have the storm-flow that a river would have, there is no silage plastic tangled in the branches like a drunk witch. This kind of carry-on leads to wildlife. I must admit that I’m one of those people who, once upon a time, didn’t rate Irish wildlife.
I was suckered — probably by the Big Ungulate lobby — into believing that if it wasn’t on the Serengeti in herds of millions, or stalking an antelope in the jungles of Borneo, it wasn’t as valid.
I wasn’t a bird man, either. But when you’re gliding through a wooded canal-cut, and first a bat, and then a kingfisher, zips past you like a little boy racer in a tiny Micra, it’s so wondrous, you might as well just have seen a gorilla doing pilates. 41 years on this planet and I’d never seen a kingfisher before. Their blue was like a special effect. Zipping around the place, a sprite who is trying to tempt you away from your quest.
We hear a train in the distance. It sounds ominous. It was trains that killed the canals 150 years ago. I feel like shaking a fist at the threat to our existence, but I’m too calm.